My framebuilding career started by accident. As a young
racer in Southern California during the "bike boom" of
the early 70's, I was at a bicycle race in Escondido, CA
in 1973. I was riding a Masi Gran Criterium, built in Italy.
I was aware of the legendary Faliero Masi. Like most bike
racers, I considered Masi to be the best of the best. On that
day I never dreamed that I would actually meet the man face
to face. As it turned out, the new Masi factory had been
established in nearby Carlsbad, CA and most of the principal
people involved had come to the race to watch. I had no idea
there was a factory nearby. When I was able to meet the plant
manager, Faliero Masi and Mario Confente I was stunned.
With my Masi in tow, I sheepishly approached Faliero to get
his autograph on my paper racing number. He signed it and
handed it back. He had a sparkle in his eye I'll never forget.
Even at 65 years old he was full of energy and charisma.
For some unknown reason, having never considered
building bike frames, I sought out the English speaking
manager, Roger Smith. I asked if they needed any people
to work at the new Masi factory. It was disappointing to hear,
"I don't think we need anybody right now". The following
day, I had to deliver a Rolls-Royce for the dealer I worked
for. The Masi factory was right off the freeway in Carlsbad,
so I whipped the Silver Shadow off the freeway and stopped.
Roger Smith was surprised to see me. There were no
applications, I just wrote my name and number on a piece
of paper. Asked if I had any previous experience, I told
them I built some wheels and painted a frame or two in my
garage with an airbrush. Apparently that was good enough;
the following week I was working at Masi. I was the fourth
American to be hired. Originally, they wanted Italian
workers, but lucky for me, due to visa issues,
that was not going to happen.
My first duties involved building several hundred wheels.
Once I built them, I was taught to properly glue and mount
the silk tires. After this I did sub-assemblies of bars, brake
levers, and stems into complete units. I did the same for toe
clips/straps to pedals, saddles to seat posts. When all of the
bins were full of parts they needed to assemble complete
bikes, I was moved to the beginning stages of framebuilding.
I think my first task was to file the front dropouts that had
been brazed to fork blades. We did hundreds of forks at a
time. It took no time at all to learn each basic task under these
conditions. Each time I successfully completed my assigned
task, I was moved to the next operation. I filed rear triangles
at the dropouts, then was taught to cut and ready caps for the
seat stays. After they were brazed, I filed them by the hundreds.
I was taught to shape the raw lugs and prep them before they
were used to join the tubing. I was then taught brazing,
and brazed some front dropouts to fork blades.
the paint department, where I was the assistant to Ron Smith
(no relation to Roger). This is where I learned the paint sequence
and techniques I still use today. I also was able to learn the art
of applying varnish decals to the painted frames. I hand painted
yellow trim in the cutouts as well.
My time at Masi came to an end. One of my roommates
and fellow workers at Masi, Mike Howard, who was being
groomed as a brazer there and myself, decided to strike out
on our own. Jumping ship was something they tried to prevent.
But Mike had become frustrated with Mario, as they were
trying to build forks with "twin plate" fork crowns. Mario
was difficult to work with. The previous brazing trainee had
left, having a difficult time with Mario over similar issues.
Mike and I quit and we moved back to Orange County,
and began to build the notorious Wizard Bicycles. During
that two year period we both learned a lot about the craft
and a little, very little, about the business of framebuilding.
We built about 75 serial numbered frames. We built a few
for ourselves as well. There were probably about 80
frames or so total.
At Wizard, we put a lot of time into each frame, which made
them highly regarded. We weren't making much money though.
In mid-1976, we received a call Masi in Carlsbad. They had
fired all of the crew and only the shop manager, Gian Simonetti,
remained. They wanted Mike and I to come back to Masi as
foremen, and assemble a new crew. By then the newfangled
"investment cast" lugs were being used. I became the painting
foreman, head painter, and the person who trained the guys to
shape and file lugs, as I did the painting of the Wizards and did
all the lugwork. Mike was the brazing foreman, since he did the
fixturing and brazing of the Wizards.
That lasted until sometime in 1977 or so. Medici Bicycles was
formed in Los Angeles. Mike and Gian became the principal
builders of the Medici bikes. I was to be the painter, of both
Confente and Medici bicycles. However, instead, I opted to
stay in San Diego county and build frames under my own
name. I have been doing so ever since, under a number of
working conditions and in situations that exposed me to a lot
of other builders. From this one learns a lot. I still do this even
now, whether teaching beginning builders or spending time
or visiting with other experienced builders. Teaching is one
of the best ways to learn things.
Growing as an artist and craftsman never ends.
Challenging oneself is what makes you grow and expand.
Falling into a routine and doing the same thing over and
over again doesn't satisfy me. This may work for many
others, but results in being good at one thing. I prefer
working on a broader set of skills and perfecting them,
which keeps framebuilding fresh and exciting.
I get my inspiration from this.
Brian Baylis, February 8, 2010.